Sept. 13, 2010 -- Smokeless tobacco products -- whether chewed or used as dry or moist snuff -- may increase the risk of heart attack, fatal stroke and certain cancers, says a new policy statement published online in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
"No tobacco product is safe to consume," Mariann Piano, PhD, lead writer of the policy statement and a professor in the department of behavioral health science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says in a news release.
The notion that smokeless tobacco may help reduce the rate of cigarette smoking is based in part on Swedish research, which showed a significant decline in smoking by Swedish men between 1976 and 2002 that corresponded with an increase in the use of smokeless tobacco.
But in similar research in the U.S., the opposite was found to be true, the article says. There was no reduction in smoking rates among people who used smokeless tobacco products.
Piano says that smokers trying to kick the habit might want to try nicotine-replacement therapy, by chewing nicotine gum or using a nicotine patch that can be attached to the skin, rather than using smokeless tobacco products.
Piano tells WebMD that most people who use nicotine-replacement therapy do so for short periods of time, and it doesn't appear to be as addictive as smokeless tobacco "because of slower absorption, lower doses of nicotine, greater cost, lack of flavoring, sociocultural influences" or a combination of such factors.
She says most health professionals feel that people switch from smoking to nicotine-replacement therapy are better off, even if they have difficulty throwing away nicotine gum and patches, "because they are not exposed to tobacco carcinogens and oxidants."
Recent research has found that smokeless tobacco products may slightly increase the risk of a fatal heart attack and fatal stroke in long-term users, she writes. Smokeless tobacco products have also been linked to an increased risk in oral cancer.
Clinical research has found no increased risk of heart attack or stroke in people who use nicotine gum or patches, Piano says.
She notes that as smoke-free air laws have become increasingly common, smokeless tobacco products have been marketed as a pleasurable substitute. But she adds that "smokeless tobacco products are harmful and addictive," which "does not translate to a better alternative."